Among the 700 animals at the 43-acre Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, N.Y., is the family of eight Asian elephants, who are cared for by a family of SUNY Oswego zoology alumnae: Alinda Dygert ’18, Heather Jennings ’14, Ashley Kurtz Sheppard ’10, elephant collection manager; and Megan VanVorce ’17.
The team of elephant caregivers represent only half of the SUNY Oswego zoology graduates who currently work at the zoo. Other Lakers include: Morgan Bronner ’18, Sarah Hansen Graf ’03, Sarah Kohler ’03 and Lucas Whitman ’04.
The team of elephant caregivers got together and shared a bit about how they got to the zoo and what it’s like to work with the family of elephants.
Heard Among the Herd:
“We are a different type of family that includes both people and animals. All of our relationships are built on mutual respect and trust. This includes the elephants trusting us to do what is needed to keep them healthy and comfortable.
“The internships that we all fulfilled while at Oswego led us to our current careers. The classes we took at Oswego were good foundation builders to help prepare us for those internships.
“Our responsibilities include daily husbandry, training, enrichment and medical care of our herd of eight Asian elephants. We also participate in public education and outreach to help the general public learn about how to conserve endangered species. Megan also participates in the daily care of the carnivores at the zoo.
“In the elephant barn we are a tight-knit group and have slowly gathered more and more Oswego grads to fill out the rest of the animal departments. It is an interesting dynamic at this point because a lot of our former interns from Oswego are now full-time staff in other departments of the zoo.
“When it comes to our coworkers, we must be able to rely on each other to keep us safe and provide feedback and guidance when needed. Due to the nature of the job we spend a lot of time together when things are difficult or exciting, including things such as sick animals or the birth of a baby animal. In these times we have to lean on each other to make sure we are all doing our best for our herd of elephants.
“We all love training and working with the elephants to provide them the best care possible. Sharing our experiences with zoo visitors and showing what it means to care for elephants and other endangered species are a great payoff as well.
“Although we are committed to caring for the animals in our herd, there is another goal at hand. The Rosamond Gifford
Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, and as a member of AZA we actively participate in Species Survival Plans for several different endangered species. This means that our participation could someday help the wild populations that, in many cases, are in a lot of trouble. We work closely with other accredited facilities around the world to accomplish this goal. While sharing our herd of elephants with our guests, it is our mission to get them excited about Asian elephants in the wild, too. This way we can help their wild counterparts and care for the ones we have here as well.”